The U.S. military downed a Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast Saturday afternoon and an operation was underway to recover debris from the Atlantic Ocean, the Associated Press reports.
The reported downing came shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration said it had “paused departures from and arrivals to” three East Coast airports “to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort.”
President Biden promised to “take care of” the Chinese spy balloon that has been flying over the United States in recent days.
The airports affected by the ground stop are those in Wilmington, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charleston, S.C.
The Chinese balloon — which, despite Beijing’s denials, the Pentagon has said is meant for surveillance — was last seen in that region. This had prompted speculation that the military might soon take action to bring the balloon down over the Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. and Chinese officials have given conflicting information on the balloon’s purpose.
The Chinese government said the balloon is strictly used for meteorological research and accidentally went adrift into U.S. airspace.
But the Pentagon says the balloon is being used for surveillance. Its presence already led Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to postpone a historic trip to Beijing, as tensions continue to rise between the two countries over national security.
U.S. officials earlier this week decided against shooting down the balloon after the Biden administration said it did not pose a national security threat. The Pentagon shared reports on Friday of a second balloon, belonging to China, that could be seen floating over Latin America.
On Saturday afternoon, the president commented on the balloon, saying, “We’re going to take care of it.”
The balloon quickly became an internet celebrity as meteorologists, storm chasers and others shared sightings on social media as it continued on its path on Friday.
Others criticized the Biden administration for not taking quicker actions to stop it.
“The China balloon flying over the U.S. is a direct assault on our national sovereignty,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted on Friday. “Biden’s refusal to stop it is a dereliction of duty. From flying balloons to open borders, Biden has no regard for our national security and sovereignty.”
On Saturday, people were still sharing sightings of the balloon on social media.
In South Carolina, the York County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that the balloon could is 60,000 feet in the air and urged people not to take matters into their own hands.
“Don’t try to shoot it!!” the office tweeted. “Your rifle rounds WILL NOT reach it. Be responsible. What goes up will come down, including your bullets.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.